Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy



Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a name for the damage done by concussions. This damage is currently being looked at by the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston University School of Medicine. CSTE is looking specifically at brain tissue donated by the families of retired NFL athletes who suffered debilitating and lingering problems long after they left football. What CSTE has found is that in six out of six documented cases, the damage to the brain has been shockingly extensive. According to neuropathologist at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts, Dr. Ann McKee, “It’s throughout the brain, not just on the superficial aspects of the brain, but it’s deep inside.”

The NFL players whose brain tissue is being studied all died in their 30s and 40s – from drug overdoses, gunshots and other suicides. And according to McKee, who co-directs the CTSE, the brain tissue is similar to that of Alzheimer’s patients in their 80s.

CTE affects parts of the brain which control emotion, breathing, rage, and hypersexuality, and resembles brown tangles. These tangles are flecked throughout the tissue of sufferers. It is also progressive and eventually kills brain cells.

Other retired players who are still alive and dealing with CTE document a life filled with bouts of depression, rage, memory loss, and horrible headaches. And nearly a hundred athletes have said they will donate their brains to CSTE for study once they have died.

One of those who have consented to this study is retired player Ted Johnson. He is also one of the first to sign up. Johnson claims to have suffered over 100 concussions as a linebacker for the New England Patriots. In 2002, Johnson suffered back-to-back concussions, and where his problems started. Sleep disorders, mental fatigue, and depression have followed.

Johnson also says that he played through his concussions because he did not understand the consequences. Many athletes in the NFL are the same way. And he has publically blamed the NFL for not doing more to protect players, even though they are aware of multiple concussions and the damage they cause. The NFL claims that they actively manage concussions, as well as take a conservative approach to treatment. They point to the hundreds of thousands of people who play football and other sports who do not experience any problems. They are planning their own independent medical study of the long-term effects of concussions on NFL players.

Until then, many players may be in for a future revolving around this brain injury that is just beginning to be understood.